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Whales and alien worlds

Here’s my story on the amazing fossil whale graveyard found in Chile. Cool site. Lots of bones, highly articulated, including two adults and a juvenile baleen whale that overlap — a clear sign of a mass stranding in the Late Miocene.

Hard on the flukes of that story comes another science story, this one on Kepler exoplanets. They found another 715 planets. That’s a haul. Here’s a graph showing the big spike in a single day in known exoplanets.

We’ve written about Kepler a bunch.

One of these days we’ll travel to a distant, alien world with intelligent life on it, but it’ll be a water-world, and the intelligent life will be aquatic, and very much like whales, and we’ll all just stare at each other, mutually unintelligible — not simply unable to translate each other’s language, but unable to comprehend anything about what the other is thinking. We won’t get the gist of each other.

We’ll have gone all that way into deep space, only to be left befuddled. Our message to the alien cetaceans: “I don’t quite follow you.”

Carl Sagan, however, was more optimistic than I am. He thought there were something on the order of a million technological civilizations in our galaxy alone. Someone should write a book about it; for the moment, here’s a magazine piece I did recently. Note the interesting take on the Fermi Paradox from Geoff Marcy, who is arguably the greatest planet-finder of our time:

“If our Milky Way Galaxy were teeming with thousands of advanced civilizations, as depicted in science-fiction books and movies, we would already know about them. They would be sending probes to thousands of nearby stars. They would have a galactic Internet composed of laser beams at various wavelengths shooting in all directions, like a museum security system. They would reveal enormous infrared waste heat from their vast energy usage.”

But we’ll keep looking.



Joel Achenbach writes on science and politics for the Post's national desk and on the "Achenblog."



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Joel Achenbach · February 25, 2014

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